Just a few days ago, the Wall Street Journal released a telling article entitled, “What’s a College Degree Worth? Not Much for Young South Koreans.” The piece explains how university students struggle in looking for decent jobs, despite coming from prestigious schools and having amazing credentials. This sad and alarming reality in South Korea brings to mind these questions: What are good grades for? Does a high rank and a good record really help one student get ahead in life? Can a student pursue his or her dreams? What makes school different from the corporate world?
“School 2017” comes in at a high time when these important discussions are starting to gain traction in the country. Will these questions ever be answered in the drama?
Warning: minor spoilers ahead.
So what’s it like in the life of a typical South Korean teen? Here’s a sneak peak inside the world of 18-year-old high school students as told in the storyline:
Hierarchy is everything
The school puts extreme importance in rankings, so much so that the principal orders the teachers to post every student’s rankings prominently on the walls of the hallway. The reasoning for this, he says, is so that the students will be “motivated.” But the truth is, he just wants to show off to the school directors. And instead of motivating the students to study harder, they get publicly shamed if they belong to the lower ranks, or “tiers,” as they call it.
The teachers also abide by this strict hierarchy rule, and that means they can call a student “stupid” or give them a verbal spanking outright if they resist.
Reward and punishment system
As mentioned, ranking is everything, and if you belong to the top, you can enjoy certain benefits, no matter how unfair they are. In this school, students line up to eat in the cafeteria according to their ranking. Song Dae Hwi (Jang Dong Yoon), a model student who always ranks first, of course, gets to eat first, while Ra Eun Ho (Kim Sejeong) who ranks below the 200 mark, gets to eat what’s left of the top ranking students’ lunches. She described it perfectly, “We all get hungry regardless of our grades!”
Connections can get you special treatment
The irony in all of this is that the importance they put on grades becomes void once you have connections that are beneficial to the school. Hyun Tae Woon (Kim Jung Hyun) belongs to this category, because his father is a wealthy investor of the school.
Tensions run high because of pressure
What happens when students are forced to take not just one but four mock exams a month? They get anxious, stressed, and hostile.
Cast and characters
When it was first announced that Kim Sejeong will lead the series as the main actress, many people were skeptical. She has to fill in the big shoes of the big actors and actresses who came before her, with the fact that she has little to no acting experience. The same goes for the fresh-faced actors Kim Jung Hyun and Jang Dong Yoon, who may have appeared in some dramas, but only as minor characters. But what’s good about choosing relatively new actors is that they can bring something different to the drama. That’s the charm of the “School” series — it’s a launching pad for new actors to grow and become big stars. But of course it comes with some downsides as the acting can be a bit compromised.
In the lighter parts of this drama, everything is bathed in a golden light that’s like an Instagram filter come to life.
Sejeong plays a bubbly, below average student who’s not afraid to speak her mind. She may be a bit superficial sometimes, because all she thinks about is her crush (cameo by CNBLUE’s Kang Min Hyuk) and having fun just like a normal teenager. But she has dreams of becoming a webtoon artist and joining a competition to get into the same university as her crush. Sejeong is undeniably cute as a button and the camera loves her. As for her acting, she does quite well for her first lead role, though sometimes she has a tendency to exaggerate her reactions a bit. Then again, it’s better than having no expressions at all, and in this drama, Sejeong shows that she has great potential but there’s room for improvement for sure.
Jang Dong Yoon and Kim Jung Hyun
The two guys are playing the classic good vs. bad image, but we can never really be too sure who’s good or bad. Jang Dong Yoon plays the smart class president and school idol type, while Kim Jung Hyun is the bad boy chaebol‘s son who pretty much gets away with anything he does. But both have a deeper story and personality than what they seem. Even the rule-abiding class president has secrets to hide, and the bad boy may have a hidden heart of gold. There are hints that they have a past conflict with each other, and it will be interesting how Sejeong’s role will come between the two. I have a feeling that Dong Yoon will cause a second lead syndrome, but it’s far too early to tell.
But the more important question is, who is the hoodied bandit that is causing chaos to the school and breaking its suffocating routine? Could he be the hero that can change the unjust school system?
Can you believe Han Sun Hwa is playing an adult role in this drama? It seems like yesterday when she was singing “Madonna” with her former group Secret, but it will be fun to see how she interprets the role of a policewoman summoned to solve the mystery happening in school. Meanwhile, Han Joo Wan plays a righteous teacher who is still reluctant to voice out his opposition to the school injustice. We can just wait and see if his character will go full on Kim Soo Ro type as the drama goes along.
“School 2017” is shaping up to be an exciting drama that has slice-of-life parts coupled with mystery and commentaries on the plight of students in this modern day. Whether it’s in Korea or different parts of the world, young or old viewers can definitely see themselves in the young students’ situations: the pressures of getting good grades, the uncertainties of the future, and the pains of growing up. It’s a must-watch if you want to relieve your school days, or if you’re a student yourself, you just might find comfort and courage in watching this drama.
Catch the first episode of “School 2017” below:
Hey Soompiers, what are your thoughts on “School 2017” so far? Let us know in the comments below!
DP_Kim is an English magazine writer and fashion fan whose goal in life is to wear heels and find the best OOTD locations while living in the farm outside of Jeonju, South Korea. Follow her Korean adventures here.